Text: Romans 8:1-4
Opening: A little over a month ago on June 8, 2018, celebrity chef, writer, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, who wore a tattoo on his arm that read in ancient Greek, “I am certain of nothing,” tragically committed suicide at the age of 61. In an interview for Men’s Journal from 2014, Bourdain (a self-described hedonist who attempted to find life in the pursuit of pleasure) was asked: What are the benefits of hedonism, and what are the risks? Bourdain replied, “Look, I understand that inside me there is a greedy, gluttonous, lazy, hippie—you know? I understand that. … there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, and smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons, and old movies. I could easily do that. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy. … I’m aware of my appetites, and I don’t let them take charge.” When asked: How should a man handle regret, and what’s your biggest regret? Bourdain replied, “Regret is something you’ve got to just live with, you can’t drink it away. You can’t run away from it. You can’t trick yourself out of it. You’ve just got to own it. I’ve disappointed and hurt people in my life, and that’s just something I’m going to have to live with. … You eat that guilt and you live with it. And you own it. You own it for life” (Sean Woods, “Anthony Bourdain on Writing, Hangovers, and Finding a Calling,” Men’s Journal (2014)). Anthony Bourdain’s words sound similar to what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:24 when he reflected on his own moral failures, especially the sin of covetousness — “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” Unlike Bourdain, however, who sadly chose to end his life rather than face his guilt, Paul discovered a far better way to deal with it — through faith in Jesus Christ (7:25). He put his trust in the Lord, and though he did not see his struggle with sin come to an end (that will only happen when Christians are home in heaven), Paul did come to understand that his position before God had radically changed. You see, when he tried to live according to the law, he was alienated from God and under His wrath (Romans 4:15 — law brings wrath). But when he repented of his sin and transferred his trust from the law to the Lord, everything changed. He became a child of God and inherited all the rights and privileges that come with that position. This was and continues to be true, not only for Paul, but for everyone who trusts in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord … for you, and me, the people beside you, and for every believer on the face of the earth! 1 John 3:1 says it like this: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.” Now that we’ve been adopted into His family so that we can call God our Father, we can begin to reprogram our minds (change our beliefs) with the truth about what this means for all of us. And I can think of no better place to start that process than in the first four verses of Romans chapter eight. Here we can begin to see some of the implications of being a child of God as Paul lays them out for us. Join me as we consider what I’ve come to refer to as the three NO’s of our salvation as found in this passage.
There is NO CONDEMNATION for those in Christ Jesus (There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus — Romans 8:1). Before we get to what Paul actually says about us, let me tell you what he isn’t saying. Paul is not saying, “There is therefore now no failure for those in Christ Jesus.” Just read Romans 7 and you’ll see that isn’t true. We struggle our way to maturity in the Christian life. Two weeks ago I referred to this process as “failing upward.” We take two steps forward, and then one step back. If you checked in with a Christian during one of those low points, he might represent himself as never having grown in his faith at all, but that wouldn’t be accurate. In fact, it’s in the struggle that we grow in conformity to the image of Christ as we learn to put of the flesh and put on the Spirit, but it’s a slow process that occurs over time as we rely on the Lord. Now, if Paul isn’t referring to his failures, what is he referring to in verse one. The word “condemnation” involves the action of condemning someone to a punishment. Here’s what the Bible has to say about that: When we were separated from God and followed the ways of the world, we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But through faith in Jesus, we have been made alive together with Him so that we exist in a new and completely different reality. Where, formerly, we were enemies of God, now we are loved and accepted by Him. We are no longer objects of His wrath, but receivers of His grace and mercy. All of our sins are paid for by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us. Each one is completely and forever forgiven. John Bunyan, the author of A Pilgrim’s Progress, certainly grasped this truth. He said, “No child of God (Christian) sins to that degree as to make himself incapable of forgiveness.” The reason he could say this is simple: Our forgiveness and subsequent adoption into the family of God is not based on anything we do to earn it, but on what Christ did. He took the sentence of death for us, so that we could have eternal life. And since the Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf as evidenced by raising Him from the dead, we can be assured that He will always forgive our sin! To do otherwise would imply that Jesus’ sacrifice was insufficient to pay the penalty for it in the first place. SO AS FAR AS BELIEVERS ARE CONCERNED, THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION IN CHRIST JESUS. WE ARE ABSOLUTELY ACCEPTED BY HIM.
There is NO CAPTIVITY to the Law of Sin and Death (For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death — Romans 8:2). Ask people how a person can get to heaven, and in many cases you’ll hear a response that has to do with keeping the rules that God has laid out for us. I used to think that way. I pictured the day of judgment looking something like this: I would stand before God and watch as he weighed my good works and my bad works. Then, if the good I accomplished outweighed the bad, I would enter into heaven. If they didn’t, well … that was an outcome I didn’t really want to think about. But that’s not how it works. God doesn’t grade on a curve. If we’re going to trust in ourselves, we have to attain to moral perfection. Unfortunately, that’s an impossibility because of the sinful nature each succeeding generation inherited from our original parents, Adam and Eve. Each time we sin, we’re just proving that lack what it takes to keep God’s laws. When Paul mentions the law of sin and death, he is talking about the Old Testament law which we now know is not evil, but good. However, it was never intended to make us righteous before God. Instead, it was given to expose our sin by demonstrating how far we fall short of God’s holy standard. The simple fact is that we cannot keep God’s laws, try as we might. We break them all the time leading to a conscious awareness of sin and death (Romans 3:20 — No one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law, we become conscious of sin). Thank God that there is also the law of the Spirit of life according to Paul. This is the good news of the Gospel! Christ died as our substitute to remove the sin barrier between us and God and to reconcile us to Him. Now through faith in Jesus we are set free from attempting the impossible — to keep the law without fail (Galatians 3:10 — Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law). In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus refers to our sins as debts and instructs us to ask God to forgive them. What kind of debt is sin? I would argue that it’s a debt of righteousness. Here’s what I mean. If we’re going to work our way to heaven, we have to live morally perfect lives. If we stumble even once, we now have a debt caused by our failure to do what is right that we cannot repay because every other act of righteousness we perform is just the accepted way of keeping in step with the standard He has already established — absolute obedience and holiness. Maybe this story will help you understand. Suppose we made an arrangement between the two of us that went something like this: You give me every cent you ever earn and in return, because I’m the richest man the world has ever seen, I agree to take care of every legitimate need and every good desire that you ever have. This is a great deal because it takes all the pressure off of you, so you sign a contract with me and for a while bring me your paychecks immediately after you receive them. In exchange, I give you good food, housing, clothing a trusted source of transportation, vacations and anything else that will bless you. Then one day, on your way to give me your paycheck, you decide that you want a piece of bubblegum that I said you couldn’t have because it would rot your teeth. But the desire overcomes you, so you stop at the bank, cash your check, put a quarter in a machine and out comes the gum. Then you bring the remaining part of your paycheck to me. I notice immediately that it is short 25 cents. You explain that you bought a piece of bubblegum, but not to worry because you’ll pay me back with your next check. I respond by asking, “How are you going to do that? That entire check as are all the rest are already mine. After all, you promised them to me.” And that’s when it occurs to you that you have now a debt you can never repay. Listen — the law of sin and death says that if you want to go to heaven, you must keep God’s rules every single time. Break them even once and you have incurred a debt that you can never repay. That’s bad news for us because, unfortunately, we break them all the time, leading to condemnation from God. But thank the Lord because Christ paid our debt of righteousness for us and has set us free from living in captivity to the impossible standard of God’s law. Through Jesus our debt is cancelled because He paid it for us in full. Now let’s review what we’ve said so far: There is No Condemnation because Christ was condemned for us; there is No Captivity because Christ has set us free from living up to the impossible standard of God’s laws. Here’s the third and final “no” of this passage.
There is NO CREDIT that goes to anyone but God (For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit — Romans 8:3-4). Don’t miss the first four words in verse three. They’re very important. “For God has done…” As I just shared, we cannot rescue ourselves from the wrath of God and eternal death. If He didn’t take matters into His own hands, we would be doomed. I like how Paul says it in Ephesians 2:8-9 — For by grace we have been saved through faith and not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast. In heaven, you will not find anyone bragging about how they deserve to be there because they gave more money to good causes than anyone, or wrote more encouraging notes than anyone. Forgiveness, reconciliation with God and new and eternal life is not a payment as if God is our debtor, but a gift. This gift He gives to us in the person of His own Son. Paul then goes on to explain what Jesus did to remove our condemnation and set us free from sin and death.
- Jesus came In the likeness of sinful flesh. They call this the incarnation. The Son of God took on human flesh so that He could act as our representative in satisfying God’s holy standard found in His law (which we failed to do). In His humanity and in complete reliance and dependence upon the Holy Spirit, Jesus did everything to please His Father (John 8:29). He never acted self-centeredly, but always obeyed God’s will (I have come to do your will, O God — Hebrews 10:7). He succeeded where Adam failed, and because of His righteous life, Jesus was able to take the next step in bringing us to God.
- Jesus came for sin. He allowed Himself to be arrested, to suffer an unjust verdict, to be mocked and ridiculed and ultimately to be nailed to a cross under the punishment of death. This is a reference to what we call the atonement. To atone means to cover. In a human body that endured excruciating pain and suffering, Jesus allowed His accusers to nail him to a cross. It was there that He shed His blood, giving His life on the cross for our sins and offenses against the Holy God of the universe.
- Jesus condemned sin in the flesh. You may have heard someone talk about our justification. It means a legal declaration of righteousness. If you can imagine a courtroom, God the Father is the Judge, you’re on trial for your sin and Christ is your defense attorney. A prosecuting attorney quickly makes the case that you have broken God’s laws over and over again. He parades out several of your most embarrassing ones and, as he does, you sit there with your head hung low assuming a guilty verdict. But then Christ stands up and says to the Father, “I have satisfied the requirements of the law by offering myself in payment for the sins committed by this individual.” And that’s when God totally amazes you and declares, “You are innocent of all charges. I find you to be righteous person.” How did this happen? Jesus satisfied the requirement of the law so that you could pass from a sentence of death to the blessing of eternal life.
- Jesus did this In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Jesus didn’t merely die to pay the penalty for our sin, but to break its power over us. We refer to this as our sanctification. Because the Holy Spirit now lives in us, we have the ability to live in a manner worthy of our Lord (to walk according to the Spirit). This we do, not to earn our salvation, but because we have new life in Christ and nothing short of obedience will ever satisfy us again.
Let me wrap up this message by sharing with you three tests that reveal if you believe what God is saying in Romans 8:1-4:
- Test #1 — If you’re living in fear of God’s wrath and judgment, you do not get it. And the really sad thing is that the condemnation you’re feeling is self-imposed. It is not from God.
- Test #2 — If you’re still trying to work your way to heaven, you don’t get it. It’s an impossibility. We’re debtors because of our sin and only Christ can cover it.
- Test #3 — If you are not filled with gratitude to God, you don’t get it. When you realize all that God did for us in sending His Son to this world, how could you not want to say thank you each and every moment of the day?
Conclusion: Imagine you fall off the side of an ocean liner and, not knowing how to swim, begin to drown. Someone on the deck spots you, flailing in the water and throws you a life preserver. It lands directly in front of you and, just before losing consciousness, you grab hold for dear life. They pull you up onto the deck, and you cough the water out of your lungs. People gather around, rejoicing that you are safe and waiting expectantly while you regain your senses. After you finally catch your breath, you open your mouth and say: “Did you see the way I grabbed onto that life preserver? How tightly I held on to it? Did you notice the definition in my biceps and the dexterity of my wrists? I was all over that thing!” Needless to say, it would be a bewildering and borderline insane response. To draw attention to the way you cooperated with the rescue effort denigrates the whole point of what happened, which is that you were saved. A much more likely chain of events is that you would immediately seek out the people who rescued you, and you would thank them. Not just superficially, either. You would embrace them, ask them their name, invite them to dinner, maybe give them your cabin! Gratitude is a natural response to salvation. It does not require coercion or encouragement; to the extent that the individual understands what has happened, gratitude will flow organically and abundantly from his or her heart. (William McDavid, Ethan Richardson, Paul Zahl, Law & Gospel (Mockingbird Ministries, 2015), page 73). It’s right and appropriate to express our gratitude to God for saving us. In fact, that’s what we do every Sunday when we gather together for worship. So let’s conclude this service by standing together and proclaiming the power of God’s love to save sinners!